Hair tourniquet syndrome: ‘Check your baby’s toes’

Baby toe hair tourniquet

Gemma Buckley couldn’t work out why her baby just wouldn’t settle. She’d had a bath and been fed, but the six-week-old continued to cry. It wasn’t until Gemma changed her daughter’s nappy that she discovered something wrapped around her toes. A single strand of hair, that was slowly cutting off the circulation in her tiny digits.

Hair tourniquet syndrome is a common condition in babies which happens when strands of hair wrap around a body part cutting off circulation, and it can cause serious damage if not treated quickly. Luckily for Gemma, a quick-thinking nurse came to the rescue with a genius way to remove the tightly-wound hair.

Hair removal trick for hair tourniquet syndrome

Baby toe hair tourniquet

Gemma, a member of the Mum’s Grapevine Pregnancy & Baby Facebook Groups, shared her story so more mums are aware of hair tourniquet syndrome in babies.

“I had never experienced this with my two-year-old so was a little surprised to see it with my six-week-old baby,” Gemma explained.

“Given it’s winter, babies are in layers of clothing and their feet aren’t often exposed. I had bathed her about three or four hours earlier and gave her a feed. After the feed, she wouldn’t settle and was crying however, she was quite an unsettled baby so I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I went to change her nappy that I noticed her toe.

“Both the third and fourth toe were swollen and on close inspection I could see a single blonde hair (likely mine) wrapped around her toes. I tried to unravel the hair and successfully freed the fourth toe but then the hair snapped. It was wrapped so tightly and cutting into the skin that I couldn’t even see the hair let alone trying to get nail clippers or a nail file underneath it to snap the hair.”

Gemma took her daughter to her local emergency department, and after the toes were inspected by several doctors, everyone was stumped.

“They couldn’t even see the hair to try and snip it. They called an orthopaedic surgeon as they started discussing the idea to make a small incision on the side of her toe which would also cut through and release the hair. A nurse then came on shift and popped her head into the room and the doctors asked if she had experience dealing with hair tourniquet. She said only once before and had used Nair Hair Removal cream (the hair removal cream works to dissolve hair follicles)

“The doctor then smothered her toe in hair removal cream and wrapped it in plastic for five minutes. The Doctor then used some gauze and quite aggressively rubbed the toe to ensure the hair had broken. No further treatment was required. The toe was quite inflamed for a couple of days but returned to normal colour and size within four days.”

What are the symptoms of hair tourniquet syndrome?

Hair tourniquets usually only affect very young babies, because their toes and fingers are so small. According to Healthline, a strand of hair wrapped around a toe or finger can cause damage to the nerves, skin tissue and function of that body part, so it’s really important to get it removed as soon as possible.

Here are the signs to look out for:

  • excessive crying
  • red or discoloured finger, toe, genitalia, umbilical stump, or tongue
  • mild to severe swelling in the appendage
  • an indentation or groove on the appendage, even if no hair is visible

How to remove a hair tourniquet

As with Gemma’s case, hair removal cream with the active ingredients calcium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, or calcium thioglycolate is one of the easiest ways to remove a hair tourniquet in babies.

Here’s Healthline’s tips on removing a hair tourniquet:

  1. Take your baby to an area with good lighting. You may even want to ask your partner or a friend to shine a flashlight on the affected area.
  2. Locate the hair.
  3. Apply the depilatory cream directly onto the hair.
  4. Wait five minutes.
  5. Wash the depilatory cream off with warm water.
  6. Apply a disinfectant such as hydrogen peroxide to the affected area.
  7. If the appendage is still red, swollen, or grooved, and your baby is still in pain, seek medical help immediately.

So the advice is mummas, regularly check your baby’s toes and fingers for hair.

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